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Voice of History

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Keywords: Teamwork, Radio, American History, Technology, Podcasting
Subject(s): Social Studies, Podcasting, History
Grades 7 through 12
School: Gresham High School, Gresham, OR
Planned By: Shawn Daley
Original Author: Shawn Daley, Gresham
This plan takes place over the course of 3 class days at my school. Class periods are typically 83 minutes.

1. Students will comprehend the reach of popular culture in the 1920s through listening to a student-created radio program detailing the various events, people, and issues of the time.
2. Students will understand the impact of the radio on popular culture in evaluating the nature of authentic radio programs, and will assess the value of radio on a modern society.
3. Students will further develop creative writing and public speaking skills in preparing 2 minute radio sketches to record in front of their peers.
4. Some students, who show interest, will learn to edit and create podcasts in producing the final cut of the radio program.
5. Students will further their research skills by identifying a 1920s historical/social event or figure to produce their sketch on.

Access to a Computer Lab (Day 1 and 2)
Olympus Digital Voice Recorder (more if possible) (Day 3)
Band Xylophone (for opening bars) (Day 3)
Signs (for sound effects during recording) (Day 3)
Other props as needed (Day 3)
Olympus Podcasting/Editing software (Day 3+)
Podcast of 1920s radio shows (available on ITunes) (Day 1)
Assignment Sheet with prescribed topics (Day 1)
Rubric for Peer Scoring (Day 2)
Note Sheet for Radio Day (Day 3)
Optional* -- Blank CDs for student versions

Day 1:

Anticipatory Set: As class begins, ask students to sit down to listen to Radio program from the 1920s. This program can be any that you see as entertaining for your students -- I often choose the Lone Ranger because of the iconic music, which most students know for some reason. Play about 5 minutes of the program and then allow for comments of all stripes from students. Engage them by asking what they think about radio as a medium for communication. Explain to students the history of the radio and its impact on the United States especially during the 1920s. (15 minutes)


1. Hand out assignment to students, explaining that they will be spending the next two days preparing a radio program of their own about an issue from the 1920s. This assignment sheet should clearly detail your expectations of the program. Typically, I ask students to create a 2 minute radio bit which has to be about several pre-selected toipcs. In the past, these topics have included Silent Film stars Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin, the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, the 1927 Yankees baseball team, the Dempsey-Tunney fight, the Teapot Dome Scandal, etc. I have even had students sing pieces from The Threepenny Opera! Whatever you choose as the focus, make sure students have clear things to choose, mainly because if you leave it open ended, they won't decide on a topic.
Read through choices with students and then ask students to consider what they'd be interested in doing. Get down on a piece of paper who wants to do what (1 person per topic), and then bring them to the computer lab for research. (I have a copy of this sheet if anyone wants it). (10 minutes to read and answer questions, 5 minutes to take down student selections).

2. At computer lab, time students and explain that they have to produce a summary of information about their particular issue that they should turn into you at the end of class, as well as keep a copy for themselves. If you are green-friendly, as I am, they can email a copy to themselves and to you. This summary should answer basic details about the individual. I offer students a checklist of the key facts they need to have, as well as a brief brainstorm of what can make their presentation about. (5 minutes transit to computer lab, remainder of period for work).

Students should bring their summary home and for brief homework see if they can add more information to that particular summary. They should come into class with a rough outline of what their radio program could look like, complete with possible needs for sound effects.
Students should meet you in the computer lab to start the next class. Explain that students can also go onto iTunes and download free Antique Radio shows for free from their podcasting website (more probably available, but this is the one I use).

Weaker students can be paired together with stronger ones, or kids who are more introverted can offer to help as "sound effects" people (getting needed props) or digital editors for after the program is done. However, they should be few in number, as if everyone does this then no one will be recording the radio show.

Day 2:

No anticipatory set

1. Students will meet with you to start off class and hand in a copy of their rough outline. Explain to them that you will review this particular sheet over the course of class to weed out any issues. You explain that if there are any worrisome bits, then If a student hasn't completed this, they simply lose credit, as the class period will be devoted to producing a final script for the radio show based on their research. They should, by the 45 minute mark, be able to hand in a copy of their two-minute script. (note: this is much more doable if you have shorter classes over several days, and if you have that kind of schedule, I envy you). (45 minutes)

2. At the 45 minute mark, students will have had to print their scripts. When they are ready to submit them to you, take them, and then immediately pass them out to other students along with a prepared rubric. Before you turn students loose, you will have for them a completed list of all props that will be needed for this particular event. Students MUST check off that their items are there, so that you can try to get them. *If you have prop students, or editing students, the first part of the period would be used for them in taking the Olympus tutorials, or starting to brainstorm how to assemble basic props for making sounds. The second half of class would be that they actually go out, based on the list, and obtain as many materials as possible and bring them to your classroom (remember to give them a hall pass! I also give them a "Can we borrow form" -- which I have -- that they show other teachers in order to get supplies. This way the other teachers know that it will be returned.)
The rest of the class needs to then take the new script they have and, using the rubric, test and critique it. They need to make sure it is 2 minutes long (no longer), that it is clever, interesting, dramatic, etc., and they need to go back to their computers to make sure that it's accurate. (Explanation is 5 minutes)

3. Students fill out the rubric and return it at the end of class, signing it to ensure that they have tested it and they have done a good job vetting it for errors. They return the script to the student, and the rubric to you. (30 minutes)

Students need to be ready to perform their scripts in the next class. They will have two chances to get through it (you can give more, but I only say two so that kids practice). They have to be at 2 minutes and only have a 5 second grace period either way -- this prevents going overtime in the class and prevents kids from making it up on the spot. I put pretty hefty penalties for being too long or too short.

Day 3:
No anticipatory set. You may want to arrange class in an amphitheater style, or, if you have a choir/band room, ask if that room is free during this period. It can make for much easier recording. You also will need to make several signs for student cues, such as "Gasp" and "Applause" to hold up during presentations for student sound effects.

1a. (before class) From the rubrics and topics, arrange the order of performance as you see fit. All students should try to go in that period, although if you have shorter classes, you can split your group by who you think is most or least prepared.

1. Explain to students that recording will begin in about 15 minutes. As you have props assemble and get ready to record, students can do one last practice with their script. Take ten minutes to see what props are available for each particular recording (if you have prop people, they can do it, and if you don't, ask individuals to grab the props you've fond for sound). (10 minutes)

2. Announce a 5 minute warning and check recording equipment one last time. Pass out note sheets so that students can write down information about these topics (and thus get content data on the 1920s). You can organize the note sheet in a variety of ways -- chronological, thematic, etc. I have a copy of this as well. (5 minutes)

3. Begin recording. Either you or a student can play opening bars (akin to NBC's opening), to start the program. Using Olympus digital voice recorder, maneuver from student to student. Remember to use the stop button on student false starts, but pause when they merely forget a line and need a second. Use signs in order to prompt applause, laughter, etc. (anywhere from 40 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the class and the quality of the programs).

4. Review topics with students, congratulate them for a job well done, and explain that grades will be given after a second listening by you (as it is hard to listen and score when holding a voice recorder). Collect ALL scripts, so that students do not recycle them in case of a computer or recorder error and they have to rerecord. (5-10 minutes).

(post class) Take Olympus recorder and immediately attach to PC for downloading files. Put files on computer from program and begin, when time available, to put together into radio show. If you have student editors, they can fuse in more sound clips, voice overs (to play the role of radio personality or announcer), and get copies made on CD for students (which can be extremely time-consuming). Students or you can upload radio program as a podcast using Olympus software. In the past, I have posted this for use by other local history classes as well as our middle schools. I will also then use a copy for our Mocktail Party at the end of the 1920s, to play as the Stock Market crashes. This last piece is done by me (and if I have student editors, secretly added), in mock urgency (and at the loudest possible setting) in order to jar their attention during the party and make them a little worried about their Stock Market simulation. I return grades to students with 7 days of the recording with a pre-written rubric, which I also have a copy of for interested teachers.


I love doing this lesson, and the kids have fond memories of it too. They retain information, both cultural and historical, about the 1920s, and are usually very thoughtful about recognizing the talents of their peers in the room. It is a great bonding experience for them, and a wonderful time for you to see them really shine with creativity as they bring history to life.

Please email for any and all forms -- I'd be happy to supply. I used an Olympus T-model recorder with USB connectivity. It is the best one on the market, and the most user friendly.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
If paired with an excellent English teacher, students could earn credit for their written scripts or for doing this as a speech.
Usually I have the radio program played while students celebrate a "mocktail" party at "Mr. Daley's Speakeasy" just before their Stock Market simulation (running concurrently) crashes and they lose their money and savings.
Materials: Podcasting, Digital Voice Recorders
Other Items: 1 Xylophone (borrowed from band), $0 each, total of $0.00
Index Cards/Blank Sheets of paper
1 Podcast from Antique Radio Shows (online), $0 each, total of $0.00